Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Wish granted!

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I spent nearly two weeks in Croatia with my sons years ago and the place I’d always regretted missing was Plitvice National Park. As far as I was concerned, Plitvice was #1 on my list for this Croatian vacation with David and now, as our trip neared an end, we were finally going to be there…and it was storming. Not just light rain, but a downpour. Aaargh!

The weather in Zadar had been overcast with occasional drizzle, but cleared to sunny the morning we set out on the drive to Plitvice. It’s an easy 2-hour drive from Zadar to Plitvice and the scenery is beautiful as you head into the mountains and cross over impressive bridges spanning wide inlets of water. read more

Roman amphitheater at Solin, Croatia

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On our way back from Krka to Split, we made a short detour to visit the ruins of a Roman amphitheater in Solin, a small town on the outskirts of Split. With no address to go by, I guessed at street names hinting at an amphitheater or forum…which resulted in quite a few wrong turns on narrow streets. For anyone preferring a more direct route (which should be everyone), the amphitheater is at the intersection of Put Salone and Paraci ulica (“ulica” being simply Croation for street). The path is neither well-marked nor straightforward due to the way streets are set up, dead ends and the like. The ruins do show up on Google Maps now, so go with that if you have access. read more

Krka Park, Croatia–walking on water

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Krka Park pathway

The waterfalls, lakes, rivers and pathways of Krka Park lure visitors from Croatia and beyond. We got up early to start our daytrip to Krka, hoping to avoid the crowds we’d heard could be a problem. The park lies an easy hour’s drive from Split. We drove the vast majority of the way on the excellent A1/E65 highway, then followed signs (and Google Maps) along the equally well-maintained E33 to the park’s main entrance at Lozovac. The enormous parking lot was mostly empty, but cars and tour buses were already beginning to arrive. We bought entrance tickets at the booth in the parking lot then realized we’d just missed the free shuttle bus that takes visitors into the park. [The free shuttle service runs from April to October.] Unwilling to wait for the bus to return, we opted to hike instead downhill through thick forests. The walk is pretty and not overly-difficult for the fit, but views of the lake below are blocked and we actually saw more of that particular vista by riding the bus back to the parking lot at the end of our visit. Our hike deposited us just up the road from the bus drop-off. read more

Split, Croatia: Old Town, Diocletian’s palace & Marjan Park

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Split had been a favorite of my boys and mine on that first visit to Croatia 13 years ago, and I was excited to return with David. It’s a fascinating place: a medieval city built into and incorporating the ruins of Roman emperor Diocletian’s palace. Happily, Split proved to be one of those places that’s just as good the second time around.

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Narodni Trg (National Square) in Split

As with Dubrovnik, tourism has boomed in Split in recent years and cruise ships periodically dump large crowds on the city, but Split managed to retain the charm I remembered in spite of it all. It’s popular with Croatians from surrounding areas as well and the cafés were filled on sunny weekend days. We ran into our young guide from the Winery Miloš with a girlfriend one evening and caught up with the status of the wine competition in the US. There’s always a kick to actually recognizing a familiar face in a foreign city. read more

Dubrovnik: Still beautiful, but…

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Dubrovnik roofs as viewed from the city wall

Before this trip, it had been nearly 13 years since I was in Dubrovnik. On that first visit with my boys, we’d been blown away by the beauty of Croatia, the friendliness of the people…and the fantastically cheap prices. It reminded me at the time of what Italy had been like back in my backpacking days, long before mass tourism, hordes of cruise ships, and the euro drove up prices. That earlier visit had been not so long after the Balkan wars; Dubrovnik was still severely damaged, we saw peacekeeping troops in nearby Bosnia, tourists were just venturing back to the area. read more

Perast, Montenegro

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View of the two small islands off of Perast

With some hours to spare before our motor coach to Dubrovnik, we took the opportunity to visit beautiful Perast which lies just a short distance north from Kotor. We’d driven past the town on our way to the Ostrog Monastery, admiring the lovely old town and the two achingly picturesque little islands just off shore. One island hosts a monastery which is closed to the public, but the church on the other island is open to visitors.

With directions from Maryjana, we caught the local bus just across the road from the modern Kamelia Shopping Centre, a mere block from our apartment. The bus ride is ridiculously cheap, about €1pp and takes only 30 minutes or so. We were let off near the spot where you can hire boats to take you out to the islands. Our boat ride cost about €5 apiece. We sailed around the islands and then were dropped off at the church island for 30 minutes. The boat continued to shuttle back and forth and we could have ridden back later, but we had plenty of time. read more

Road Trip to Spectacular Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro

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A beautiful day in Montenegro is a great time for another road trip! This time we had our sights set on the locally-renowned Ostrog Monastery, a 2+ hour drive away. Once again our AirBnB host, Bojan, proved worth his weight in gold. When I asked about possible road closures in light of all the road work we’d seen on the way to Albania, he called the local traffic authority and got back to me with invaluable information: a major bridge and sole access to the monastery from Kotor would be closed for two 2-hour stints, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The bridge was an hour and twenty minutes into our journey. Armed with that knowledge, we timed our drive to arrive a scant 5-10 minutes before the bridge reopened after the morning closure. Thank God we didn’t get up early just to sit in a line of cars and semi-trucks for two hours wondering what the heck was going on! read more

Lovćen Park and a drive of a lifetime: a vertical mile of switchbacks

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Above other mountains: View from the roadside of Kotor and the bay

One place in Montenegro I was absolutely sure we wanted to see was Lovćen Park. Now that we had good weather, we grabbed the opportunity. Bojan had secured us a rent car, delivered to our apartment and at a small discount to anything I’d been able to find. Bojan was turning out to be an AirBnB host extraordinaire.

There are two routes to Lovćen Park from Kotor: the longer route via Budva and new roads and the shorter route via an older narrow, switch-back filled road up the face of the mountain at the end of Kotor bay. The road leads to the community of Cetinje. We’d heard rumors that the older Cetinje road was closed, but Goran had assured us that was not the case and we were dying to try it. Actually, David was definitely eager to try it and I thought I was, too, but with some reservations. While the views were said to be breathtaking, I had some concerns about the condition and safety of the road. read more

Daytrip to Albania

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Wildflowers and goats in Rosafa Castle grounds in Shkodër, Albania

I think nearly every traveler feels the urge of The Place Just Beyond. I try not to succumb to the temptation to waste my time in Place A running over to Place B, just because it’s further or–my personal peeve–just to “say” you’ve been there. I always wonder who exactly I’m supposed to “say” that to, and who the heck would care. Still, I can be as weak as the next person and ever since we’d planned this trip to Montenegro and I’d realized how close Albania was, I’d been tempted to make a dreaded “toe touch” run. I know, I know: Shame on me! read more

Picturesque Kotor: narrow streets and a mountain fortress

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Old Kotor: on the way to the path up to the fortress

Kotor turned out to be everything I’d hoped: beautiful, friendly, and a great base to explore. We spent the morning of our first full day in Kotor hiking to the top of Kotor’s St. John Fortress. Two access points from the old town to the path up are manned buy locals who exact a fee of around €3pp. Steep stairs and rough, cobblestone paths make the ascent easier than mountaineering, but it’s still 87 stories-worth of climbing! The fortress is entirely in ruins, with occasional small shrines and a little church along the climb and a surprising wealth of wild purple irises and bright yellow wildflowers covering the rocky terrain. We thoroughly enjoyed the climb, but were told it could be hot and crowded in the summer. Thankfully, we had neither of those problems. read more